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Conversations with Michael Carlomagno

Today we’d like to introduce you to Michael Carlomagno. 

Hi Michael, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
CGK Consulting Group was started by Michael Carlomagno (me), Joshua Gemmell, and Seth Kahle in 2013. A long time in the making, the three of us met at our first career jobs out of college in 2007. We all met at a professional training rotation for a cement manufacturer in Houston, TX. In less than six months the three of us were nearly inseparable when it came to company projects or personal lives. 

Shortly after starting, I personally found that it was a company that would not meet my own goals for growth both in engineering and professionally. In 2008 I started to look at coming back to California. I ended up in San Diego working for a consulting engineering firm in the construction industry. It was a fortunate event in my life because I still am in the construction industry and love every minute of it. 

Joshua and Seth both ended up leaving that same company shortly after I did at differing intervals. We continued to stay in touch through the years with annual visits to each other’s areas of the country. We always had a dream and passion to start an engineering firm of our own. We wanted it to be a company that could cover a client’s project from start to finish as it comes to traditional engineering for infrastructure (mechanical, electrical, plumbing), process engineering (specialty chemical flow and reaction-based processes), and controls and automation (the logic behind all of it coming together). We would also tie it all together with our experiences in the commissioning of heavy industry projects and how to coordinate between clients, engineering, and construction. 

In late 2013, we were doing some small, odd projects in the realm of drafting and light engineering for a client with polymer plants spread across the country. They weren’t complex projects, but it gave us something to put our CGK name to and we worked on these projects at night after our primary jobs. We essentially worked 14 – 16-hour days regularly for several months. 

In early 2014, I received a phone call from Seth effectively saying, “You have to quit your job!” After replying and asking why and when, he says, “Yesterday, I have a client that wants to get us on site next month.” It was the moment we had all been working for. We had a project which was to last five years and took a little bit of all three of us to get it done for certain aspects. 

Seth and I were traveling back and forth to the Ohio/Kentucky/West Virginia tri-state area for three months to get the first portion of this project off the ground. While I was at a polymer plant, I was heavy into that scope and project but, when I was back in California, I was calling clients that I used to work with between 2008 – 2012 to discuss us starting CGK, what we can offer, and why the client should choose us. 

Whether it was great timing, or purely because of reputation, (or a mixture of both!) we were successful almost immediately. We went from 18 projects in 2014, to 47 projects in 2015, to 67 projects in 2016, and just last year in 2021 we completed 128 projects. We’re now in a 15-person engineering operation and have been present in several US states, the Virgin Islands, Canada, Colombia, and Peru. 

None of this goes without saying that we’ve been able to put together an incredible engineering team from the top-down. Everyone on the team works very hard and takes pride in doing quality work, enjoys the time spent with our colleagues, and wants to be at the forefront of modern construction technology. It’s been gratifying to look back on me sitting alone in a small dingy office and growing annually to put together a team that isn’t one that I personally put together, but one that we’ve all put together. 

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Definitely not. And that’s not a bad thing. I think the nature of any highly cooperative profession, like construction and engineering, leads to there being projects which are difficult, clients which are difficult, or internal things like leadership trying to come to an agreement with which direction to take the company. 

One of the largest hurdles we would frequently come across was who or where to focus our energy when we were still a young firm. At no fault to the prospective clients, we frequently were given the, “You’re too small of a firm” talk, and frequently was followed up with questioning how we could complete complex projects being such young professionals. 

While it was a frequent occurrence, we quickly learned to accept the rejection and find out which types of firms or manufacturers to try and team up with. To this day, the firms and manufacturers we work with all repeat clients and colleagues. We enjoy working with others who like to take risks, probably in part because engineering, in a way, is about pushing boundaries and trying to get the most out of what you’ve put into it. 

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
On my side of the business, I run the commercial, life-science, technology, and light manufacturing sector of engineering. We’re designing HVAC, plumbing, and process piping systems for facilities. We’ve always been a little more geared toward the science and technology sectors as those projects and clients are a little more complex, and we love the challenge. 

We work with developers, architects, and contractors in many differing deliverable fashions to make sure the client gets the project done with their priorities in mind, whether it’s first cost or schedule. 

Without asking others, I imagine I’m best known for being hands-on and collaborative with all of our projects. I’ve spent a lot of time and effort making sure our team isn’t full of the traditional engineers that would prefer to answer by e-mail and be hesitant to go on-site. We’re with you on-site, we’re solving problems face-to-face, and we want to be involved with what everyone is doing. I think this is also a point of pride for me because at the end of the project it feels good to look at each other and say, “Yeah, we did a great job there. That was fun.” 

What’s next?
The future is growth for us. We’re looking at other regions of the United States that are experiencing booms in our world of technology and life science. 

I’m constantly challenging myself to become a better teacher for those in our office, and I’ve started a professional organization with two others where we’re trying to create something for other young leaders in the construction industry trying to gain more knowledge in critical aspects of construction. 

Personally, I have two girls that are 6 years old and 3 years old. Away from work, they are who and what I spend most of my time with. They’re both very into science, space, and building things, which are things I really enjoy taking part in their lives. Just this year I wrapped up my first year managing a soccer club that competes in the San Diego County Soccer League. The players are all adult men, 20 years and older. I enjoyed every minute of it and look forward to continuing to be a part of the club in the future. 

Talking about all of this has me wondering where I come up with the time to do any of it! 

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